kind of power does it take to change a man’s heart? Our society may pass
all the hate laws they wish, and seek out political and university
leaders who claim they can change men, but in the end it is the power of
God that must be used to achieve this daunting task.
One of the greatest examples of change in
the Bible, the apostle Paul, started a trip from Jerusalem to Damascus
with a heart that was “still breathing threats and murder against the
disciples of the Lord”
9:1). By the time he returned
to Jerusalem he was now a Christian, motivated by the grace of God
(1 Tim 1:12-14).
A great example of such a change in the
ministry of Christ came during the final hour of Jesus’ life. Jesus was
placed upon a Roman cross to suffer a shameful and torturous death in an
execution that was reserved for only the vilest of criminals. Two other
men were executed along with Jesus. They were described as “criminals”
23:22; Matthew 27:38).
In the beginning of these executions both
thieves heard the Jewish leaders taunting Jesus and they too “reviled
Him with the same thing”
No doubt these men had
hardened hearts, having come from a background where they would rob and
harm others without a second thought. They were likely being executed
that day because their presence on either side of Jesus would give an
appearance of guilt to our Lord. These thieves were filled with anger,
bitterness and cursing. The hearts of these men did not seem to be a
place where change would come.
Examples are often more powerful than words,
especially when you can be certain of the example. The news of the
rushed, unlawful trials of Jesus was widely known. The mob that heard
the innocent verdict of Pilate and then by their tongues successfully
intimidated him into executing Jesus would have talked freely. How could
an innocent man be executed? All it took was a washing of the hands for
Pilate. These thieves would see Jesus’ reaction to these injustices.
The friends of Jesus could be seen and heard
as He was being led to His execution. “And a great multitude of the
people followed Him, and women who also mourned and lamented Him"
23:27). It is doubtful these
thieves had anyone to accompany them. When Jesus spoke to His friends,
He was only thinking about them and their welfare. He warned them about
the coming doom upon the city and told them how to prepare
23:28-30; Matthew 24:1-35).
These thieves could see and hear the taunts
and hatred of the Jewish leaders. The nation, whose constitution was the
Old Testament, whose leaders had the responsibility of judging
righteously, now displayed for all the very content of their hearts.
Anyone that day who had come upon this scene and observed these judges
“wagging their heads,” “sneering,” and otherwise enjoying a close-up
view of the suffering and death of another, would have known that an
innocent man was being murdered
27:39-40; Lk 23:35).
Consider the taunts offered by these hateful
men: “He saved others,” and “He trusted in God”
(Matthew 27:42-43). While the
leaders disputed that these things were true, it ought to have opened
eyes of those who were not filled with such bitterness. One writer
described these as “taunts that offer a tribute.” Any man should be
honored to have their enemies find that these be the only “weaknesses”
to use against you!
The most powerful examples of all were the
words and demeanor of Christ on the cross. His first words were “Father,
forgive them, for they do not know what they do.
23:34)” As the insults mounted
and the suffering became greater, Jesus remained the same. “For to this
you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an
example, that you should follow His steps: Who committed no sin, nor was
deceit found in His mouth; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in
return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to
Him who judges righteously.”
It is in suffering that you display your
real heart. The love of God, as seen in the example of Jesus on the
cross, opened the heart of one of these thieves. “Then
he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”
And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with
Me in Paradise.”
How do you
know when real change towards God has occurred in your heart?
1. You will openly confess your sin and make no excuses.
2. You take a stand for Jesus.
will no longer stand by and do nothing when evil is expressed
3. You will simply desire the presence of the Lord over
any earthly advantages.
difference between real change and the self-serving pretense of some can
be seen in the request made of Jesus by these two thieves. One said:
“If You are the Christ, save
Yourself and us”
23:39), while the other simply
asked to be with Jesus.
One man was “hedging his bets”
with a “just in case” request so that maybe he could escape the cross,
while the other was ready to follow the Lord wherever He went.
Where is your heart? Sadly, many make the
example of the thief on the cross something that is was never meant to
be, as an excuse to disobey God. One preacher titled his lesson “The
Most Popular Thief in Town” to describe these attitudes.
Some want to trust in “death-bed regret”
because of this example. When the gospel is rejected over time, the
heart becomes hardened
Tim 4:2). God knows real
change from that which is pretense
There are others who conclude that their
salvation must exclude baptism because of the thief. Remember that while
Jesus was on earth he had “power on earth to forgive sins”
2:10) After His resurrection
Jesus expected all of His followers to believe in his death, burial and
resurrection and because of that belief be baptized in water, which is
described as being into the death of Christ
(Romans 10:9-10, Romans 6:3-5).
How could the thief believe in Jesus’ resurrection and be baptized into
His death before Jesus had even died?
What example will you follow at the cross?
One who yielded to whatever our Lord wished, or of those who were bound
by religious traditions that rebelled against our Lord?
“And when all the people heard
even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the
baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God
for themselves, not having been baptized by him.”